BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Ito’s Mega Bag Earns Bassmaster Elite Series Win At St. Lawrence River

WADDINGTON, N.Y. — Saving the best for last may not have been his intention, but Taku Ito’s eye-popping 26-pound limit propelled the Japanese sensation to a convincing victory at the Farmers Insurance Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River with a four-day total of 90 pounds.

Hailing from Chiba, Japan, the second-year Elite placed 38th on Day 1 with 17-15, then improved to 11th with a second-round limit of 22-14. Day 3 saw Ito secure his Championship Sunday berth by adding 23-3 and improving to seventh.

Earning $100,000 for his Elite win, Ito anchored his third and fourth days’ limits with 6-pound smallmouth, both of which earned $1,000 daily awards for Phoenix Boats Big Bass.

“I love Waddington — I’m very, very happy,” Ito said with the engaging sincerity Elite audiences have come to love. “When I was 8 years old, I won the (Bassin’s Black Bass with Hank Parker) video game and now, on the St. Lawrence River, I won the Bassmaster Elite Series.

“Big Bass. Big Stage. Big Dreams. Bassmaster!”

Ito, who placed sixth at last year’s St. Lawrence River event, devoted all four days to Lake Ontario. The first two days, he fished rock structures in approximately 20 feet. On Saturday those areas failed to produce, so he relocated to a spot in 26 to 27 feet near Chaumont Bay.

Calling this spot “Taku Disneyland” for its abundance of fish, Ito caught his Day 3 limit there and started on the spot Sunday.

“I was driving about two hours (each way) and I had about two hours and 30 minutes of fishing time,” Ito said.

Arriving at his spot this morning, Ito thought his graph was malfunctioning when he saw what appeared to be a false bottom at 13 to 14 feet. To his delight, it was a massive school of Lake Ontario giants.

“Usually, smallmouth are on the bottom, but today there was a school of big smallmouth suspended,” Ito said.

Ito said he noticed a distinct water clarity difference, and he assumed the fish had followed the clean water into his area. Also, Ito said the gobies he incidentally caught on his drop shot were a couple of inches larger than the 3- to 4-inchers he saw the previous three days.

“My spot had bigger gobies today, so maybe the smallmouth were there for the big gobies,” Ito said.

Ito caught some of his bass on a drop shot with a 4-inch Ecogear Aqua Swim Shrimp rigged on a 1/0 Ryugi Talisman hook with a 1/4-ounce Ryugi TG Delta sinker.

He also caught keepers on a Neko-rigged 5 1/4-inch Nories Latterie straight worm and a Berkley Hit Worm. For this rig, he used a 3/16-ounce Neko weight and a 1/0 Ryugi Talisman hook.

“I was using many Japanese techniques,” Ito said. “I would cast and sometimes the fish would take (the bait) while it was falling. Sometimes, I kept my bait on the bottom for 10 seconds, 15 seconds, with no action.”

Justin Atkins of Florence, Ala., finished second with 88-12. Atkins tied Gerald Swindle of Guntersville, Ala., for eighth place on Day 1 with 21-6, then added 22-14 and rose to fifth. He caught 23-10 on Day 3 and moved into second before settling at that position with Sunday’s limit of 20-14.

“I caught all of my fish out of the lake,” Atkins said. “I found a flat that had some grass and rock with some sand mixed in 12 to 20 feet. There was big school of fish on it, and I was using my Lowrance Active Target to look for them.”

Atkins caught his fish on a drop shot with a Berkley MaxScent Flat Worm and a 3/32-ounce Marabou jig with a piece of MaxScent worm on the shank. That adjustment added bulk and scent appeal, which helped convert more bites into hookups.



“I really liked the brown Marabou jig this week,” Atkins said. “I had some followers on black, but the brown, for whatever reason seemed to get them to trigger.”

Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, finished third with 88-10. On Day 1, the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year tied Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., for sixth place with 21-12.

Wendlandt added 23-3 on Day 2 and moved up to fourth. Catching 20-10 on Semifinal Saturday kept him in that spot until his final-round limit of 23-1 advanced Wendlandt one more spot.

“I fished the lake and used a lot of different depths, but the shallowest I caught one was probably 12 feet and the deepest was 28,” Wendlandt said. “The best seemed to be about 20 feet.”

Wendlandt caught his fish on a 3/16-ounce Ned rig and a drop shot with a green pumpkin minnow-style bait.

Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for the week with a 6-5. Walters also claimed the $1,000 daily Big Bass award for Day 2.

Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla., who led Days 1 and 2 and finished eighth, won the $1,000 daily Big Bass award for Day 1.

Schultz took home an additional $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, while Chris Groh of Spring Grove, Ill., earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

As part of the Yamaha Power Pay program, Ito also earned $4,000 for winning while Wendlandt claimed an additional $1,500 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

The Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River was hosted by the Village of Waddington and St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. This tournament is supported by a Market New York grant from I LOVE NY/New York State’s Division of Tourism awarded as part of the Regional Economic Development Council initiative. The tournament and all associated festivities were planned to ensure the safety of anglers, marshals, staff and fans. 

2021 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota

2021 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Berkley, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ranger Boats, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha

2021 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Bass Pro Shops, Garmin, Huk Performance Fishing, Marathon, Rapala

2021 Bassmaster Elite Series Conservation Partner: AFTCO

2021 Farmers Insurance Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River Local Hosts: Village of Waddington, St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce


Estes Wins Toyota Series Event on Lake Champlain

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (July 18, 2021) – Toyota Series angler Stephen Estes of Auburn, New Hampshire, brought a five-bass limit to the scale Saturday weighing 21 pounds, 15 ounces to win the three-day Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. at Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh, New York. Estes’ three-day total of 15 bass weighing 61-3 earned him the win by a 2-pound, 3-ounce margin over second-place angler Matt Becker of Finleyville, Pennsylvania, and earned Estes the top payout of $44,000 in the first tournament of the 2021 Toyota Series Northern Division.

Pro Circuit angler Kyle Gelles decided to jump in on the co-angler side at Lake Champlain. The decision seems to have paid off well. Photo by Cobi Pellerito. Angler: Kyle Gelles.

Estes fished the dream on Lake Champlain, weighing in all smallmouth and averaging more than 20 pounds per day. Looking hard for the mother lode, Estes said he started his four-day practice period with 90 hours on his motor – by the time he was back at the dock after Day 3 of the event, he had over 126 hours logged.

“I was just doing a lot of looking and trying to find something special,” said Estes. “I don’t like to fish around other people and I felt like that was the deal and I just happened to stumble across it. I was idling around and I saw bait and decided to drop the Lowrance ActiveTarget down. I wouldn’t have known the fish were there without the ActiveTarget.”

Estes said he set his target range out to 120 feet, catching fish anywhere from a long cast away to right under his boat. One of his keys on the first two days when it was windy was an independent pole mount from Cornfield Crappie.

“I bought that mount maybe a year or so ago,” said Estes. “I started with LiveScope on the trolling motor, then I changed trolling motor brands and now I’m running all Lowrance. The Lowrance isn’t quite as easy to line your bait up, because the arrow isn’t perfect, but the whole point of the independent mount is when you’re on Anchor Mode, you can independently control it – that was huge the first two days. I keep a remote in my pocket and it has foot pedals.”

Throwing a drop-shot on a 6-foot-9, medium action Hammer Rods spinning rod with 10-pound Vicious No-Fade Braid and an 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu  leader, Estes went with a ½-ounce  Eco Pro Full Contact Drop Shot Weight and a drop-shot bait from Hawg Pours Hand Made Bass Baits called the Hawg Teaser.

“Every fish was different,” he said. “I caught some fish suspended, I’d watch my drop-shot fall, I’d see it stop falling and set the hook. I would never feel the fish bite. I’ve been doing that for three years and I’ve learned to watch my bait real close.

“Some of the fish I was catching 100 feet out from the boat – I can’t make a cast with a drop-shot further than 100 feet according to ActiveTarget,” continued Estes. “There was no rhyme or reason and I can’t tell you how many fish swam up to my bait and didn’t bite it. I just kept my head down and kept fishing  and put it in front of a lot of fish.”

Though he had to relocate his fish a bit each day, Estes definitely hit the mother lode daily throughout the event. His co-anglers nearly always caught big weights as well, and doubles from the front and the back were common. Given the fish he found and his skill with electronics, it would have been a feat to beat Estes this week.

“I had a feeling [after Day 1] but I chose not to acknowledge it,” said Estes. “This is just an awesome feeling. I never expected this at all, this group of anglers is so good.”

The top 10 pros on Lake Champlain finished:
1st:           Stephen Estes of Auburn, N.H., 15 bass, 61-3, $44,000
2nd:          Matt Becker of Finleyville, Pa., 15 bass, 59-0, $18,000
3rd:          Bryan Labelle of Hinesburg, Vt., 15 bass, 57-13, $12,750
4th:           Dakota Ebare of Brookeland, Texas, 15 bass, 57-7, $10,750
5th:           Kyle Hall of Cleburne, Texas, 15 bass, 57-7, $9,750
6th:           Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., 15 bass, 56-9, $8,625
7th:           Martin Villa of Charlottesville, Va., 15 bass, 55-7, $7,300
8th:           JJ Judd of Saint Albans, Vt., 15 bass, 54-4, $6,300
9th:           Joseph Thompson of Coatesville, Pa, 15 bass, 53-14, $5,300
10th:        Jason Bacon of Nutting Lake, Mass.,15 bass, 53-1, $4,200
A complete list of results can be found at


Nick Radtke of Greenwood Lake, N.Y. took home an additional $150 for the Day One Berkley Big Bass award in the pro division, with a bass weighing 5 pounds, 9 ounces. Kevin Martin of Crown City, Ohio won the Day Two Berkley Big Bass award in the pro division, bringing a 5-pound, 4-ounce bass to the scale.

Becker took home an extra $1,000 as the highest finishing Phoenix MLF BIG5 Bonus member. Boaters are eligible to win up to an extra $35,000 per event in each Toyota Series tournament if all requirements are met. More information on the Phoenix MLF BIG5 Bonus contingency program can be found at

Kyle Gelles of Pingree, Idaho won the Strike King Co-angler Division Saturday with a three-day total of 14 bass weighing 48 pounds, 10 ounces. Gelles took home the top prize package of a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard motor.

The top 10 Strike King co-anglers on Lake Champlain finished:
1st:           Kyle Gelles of Pingree, Idaho, 14 bass, 48-10, Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat w/115-hp outboard
2nd:          Ted Kephart of Philipsburg, Pa., 15 bass, 48-3, $5,375
3rd:          Jeff Crowley of Goodrich, Mich., 15 bass, 46-5, $4,300
4th:           Carter Wijangco of Naperville, Ill., 15 bass, 45-10, $3,650
5th:           Stephen Draghi of Sparrowbush, N.Y., 15 bass, 45-8, $3,350
6th:           Jakob Labelle of Hinesburg, Vt., 13 bass, 37-15, $2,650
7th:           Sakae Ushio of Tonawanda, N.Y., 12 bass, 37-11, $2,150
8th:           John Detweiler of Harleysville, Pa., 11 bass, 35-12, $1,825
9th:           Tommy Sikes of Como, Texas, 12 bass, 35-8, $1,530
10th:        Romano Duncan of Andover, Mass., 11 bass, 33-7, $1,290          
In the Strike King co-angler division, the $100 Day One Berkley Big Bass award winner was Geoffrey Montgomery of Seneca Falls, N.Y. with a 4-pound, 15-ounce bass, while the $100 Day Two award went to Randy Brown of Lugoff, S.C., with a 4-pound, 14-ounce bass.

The Toyota Series at Lake Champlain was hosted by the City of Plattsburgh and the Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau. It was the first of three regular-season tournaments in 2021 for Northern Division anglers. The next event for Toyota Series anglers will take place on August 3-5 – the Toyota Series at the California Delta in Oakley, California. For a complete schedule, visit

The 2021 Toyota Series presented by A.R.E. consists of six divisions – Central, Northern, Plains, Southern, Southwestern and Western – each holding three regular-season events, along with the International division. Anglers who fish all three qualifiers in any of the eight divisions and finish in the top 25 will qualify for the no-entry-fee Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Championship for a shot at winning $235,000 cash, including a $35,000 Phoenix MLF BIG5 Bonus for qualified anglers. The winning Strike King co-angler at the championship earns a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard.

The 2021 Toyota Series Championship presented by A.R.E. will be held Oct. 28-30 on Pickwick Lake in Counce, Tennessee, and is hosted by the Hardin County Convention and Visitors Bureau.